Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Dream Events in the Pictorial Autobiography of a Confucian Official


#1 Father dreams of deceased mother

In the last century of the Ming dynasty in China, court officials hired artists to help create pictorial autobiographies memorializing their achievements. Sometimes these featured inner events including dreams.
In 1588, Xu Xianqing (1537-1602), vice-minister of personnel in the government of the Ming empire, engaged two painters to depict the important events of his life. The album, titled “Painting folio of Xu Xianqing's working career” (Xu Xianqing Huanji Tu), is now in the Collections of the Palace Museum of Beijing. It is valued by historians for its vivid depictions of the Ming court.      Minister Xu selected
twenty-five important life events for the painters, describing the scenes to them in detail, and providing them with a lengthy caption for each picture. External events he flagged as important included receiving degrees, surviving shipwreck and snowstorms, acting as imperial surrogate and mentoring the emperor himself. However, inner events in this pictorial autobiography are at least as important. Three pictures in the twenty-five paintings in Xu’s life album illustrate big dreams.   The first painting in the album shows Xu's father, with young Xianqing beside him, dreaming of his deceased mother. We know at once that Xu and his family were fully aware that we meet spirits of the dead in our dreams and can be together in the same dream. Mutual dreaming by two or more people is a common theme in Chinese literature in all periods. Xu gave the artists two turning-point dreams from his adult life to illustrate. One again involved meeting the deceased. The other gives us an extraordinary, if not unique, depiction of recovering a wandering soul - of healing through soul recovery. Xu was not shy about describing the painful and embarrassing context of these dreams. He suffered from recurring and extreme bouts of inguinal hernia that affected his testacles, rendering him impotent for long periods, making it hard to urinate, and causing extreme pain and depression. Many times, he felt close to death and may have wished for it. The doctors’ efforts accomplished little.

#15 Confucian dream meeting

During one of his crises of illness, his dream self left the bed and traveled to a beautiful country setting. He found himself naked, at the entrance to the shrine at the time of Confucius, the long-dead sage. A glow inside the building suggested the presence of spirit. Suddenly a voice announced the arrival of the current lineal descendent of Confucius, whose title was Duke Who. The Duke had come to conduct ritual sacrifice. Embarrassed by his nudity. Xu started running from the scene.Two women pursued him, offering him food including deer meat, which was considered highly auspicious. Though he had long lacked appetite, he allowed himself to be fed by the ladies.

Eating and thinking how the savory taste filled my mouth and how my saliva poured forth. I awoke with the flavor still in my mouth. I then chided myself for having this dream as I waited to see my parents’ spirits and follow after them. Could it be that I am not yet supposed to die? …Checking the afflicted place, I saw that the bulge had broken and no longer protruded…The pain then ceased. Over one or two days, urine poured out and the hernia abated.

The hernia on Xu’s left side healed but he continued to suffer agonies on the right side of his groin. Full healing came from another dream years later, on a dreadful night when Xu thought he was dying, freezing under furs and a quilt despite the summer heat. He was begging for his departed parents to come and take him to a better place. "I suddenly heard a sound like talking and laughing. On my bed, startled, I said to myself, 'This is what I sound like! Could it be that my aerial soul has come back?' Then I threw off the quilt, opened the bed curtains, and felt relieved and refreshed." The artist has followed Hun's description of what he saw in the courtyard when he pulled back the bed curtains: a ghostly homunculus - his double, on a smaller scale, floating under the trees. The artist has succeeded in giving us a rare portrayal of the reyturn of a wandering hun soul, embodied in subtle translucent stuff. The painter has added an arc of pearly light between the diaphanous figure in the garden and the sick man in bed. Looking closer, we see that the aerial soul is going to reenter the sick man's head through a kind of energy funnel. This soul recovery had wonderful effects. Xun reported that within a month, his condition was completely healed and he returned to work.

#22 Return of the Aerial Soul

This is not the story of a Daoist sage on a mountain top or ecstatic poet accustomed to roaming with immortals and lyricizing out-of-body adventures. It is the record of a Confucian bureaucrat trained to exercise sober good judgment - think of Judge Dee - with no mystical aspirations, just the desire to set down important facts from his life exactly as they played out. The gifts of Xu's album for the modern reader include its candid account of how dream events brought healing of a physical condition, the rare depiction of an "aerial soul" and its relation to a body, and the juicy description of the sense of taste coming vividly alive in a dream.

Sources: Xu Xianqing’s pictures are in the Collections of the Palace Museum, Beijing. His texts are in Zhu Hong’s Xu Xianqing huanji tu yanjiu. The translations in Lynn A. Struve’s excellent book, The Dreaming Mind and the End of the Ming World. (Honolulu:University of Hawai‘i Press, 2019) pp. 134-5.

Doppelgangers from a Possible Future


Perceiving your own double is a rarer experience than sighting someone else's doppelganger, and easier to accomplish in dreams than in waking states. Jane Roberts, the remarkable psychic medium who channeled the entity Seth, has left us an extraordinary acount of spotting a double who seemed to belong to the future, the embodiment of an older self she did not want to become. The episode is reminiscent of dreams that show us what life may be like if we continue along the road we are following.

As recounted in The Seth Material, Jane and her husband Rob are on vacation in York Beach, Maine in 1963. She is beginning to discover her psychic gifts in contact with Seth; Rob is suffering severe back pains. They decide to go to a lively night spot to try to raise their energy. They are amazed to see an older couple seated in their line of sight who look just like them, but older and sour and embittered.

Rob has a visceral response. He grabs Jane, pulls her on to the dance floor and they do the Twist till the band packs it in. Utterly out of character for Rob. When the music stops the sour old couple have gone. Did Jane and Rob just separate themselves from a probable path to a miserable future?

They ask Seth, who says the embittered couple “were fragments of your selves, thrown-off materializations of your own negative and aggressive feelings.” He talks about how we are constantly generating thought forms that can take on physical life.

He does not say it clearly, but my impression is that Jane and Rob encountered doppelgangers from a possible future, then twisted probabilities when they joined the dance, leaving the sad couple on a path not taken. I am adding it to my casebook documenting how the Many Interactive Worlds hypothesis in physics - which contends that we are constantly splitting into parallel worlds - operates on a human scale.

Drawing "Jane and Rob See Their Older Doubles" by Robert Moss

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Vardøger: Tracking the Double Who Goes Ahead of You

I am glad to have tracked down a published source for the name of a special kind of doppelganger I have encountered a few times: a double who goes ahead of you, arriving early at a place where you will appear later - and is perceived by others. I had been told that the name in Norwegian is vardøger, but that is hard to find in any dictionary, even of the Norwegian language. [1]

In an old book about the paranormal I found a detailed account of an "apparition of the living" who showed up in Oslo a few months before its host traveled there for the first time. He was an importer with an unusual name - Gorique - and to his amazement he was welcomed by the hotel clerk as a familiar guest, and told he had stayed at the hotel months before. He was welcomed again by the wholesaler he had come to visit. who told him he had come to that office months before, though their business had not been concluded.

When he explained to his business associate that he had never been to Oslo before, the Norwegian told him that “the experience of having a vardøger or 'forerunner' as they call an apparition of this sort in Norway, was not too rare as psychic phenomena go, and that heshould not let the whole thing disturb him unduly.” [2]
The mammoth early publication of the Society for Psychical Research, Apparitions of the Living, contains several reports that appear to be examples of this phenomenon, but a specific term for them is not provoded. F.W.H. Myers, one of the coauthors of that foundational work, attributed phenomena of this kind to the effects of psychorrhagy, one of many terms he invented that has not (unlike "telepathy", or "subliminal", also his coinage) made it into our household or even professional vocabulary. He described p
sychorrhagy as the  bursting through of psychic phenomena. The word literally means a bursting or breaking loose of the psyche, as a hemorrhage is a bursting of blood. In his fuller definition psychorrhagy is “a special idiosyncrasy which tends to make the phantasm of a person easily perceptible; the breaking loose of a psychical element, definable mainly by its power of producing a phantasm, perceptible by one or more persons, in some portion of space.” [3] This might be caused by strong emotion, such as grief or fear. It may also happen under calmer circumstances, as in the case of David Leiter and some of my own experiences. 

I was delighted to find an article by Leiter, a Pennsylvania mechanical engineer in the Journal of Scientific Exploration where he describes two episodes in which his "early arriving" self was seen clearly by family members and office colleagues. In the first incident, he took the highway home on a pleasant sunny afternoon and felt completely relaxed at the wheel, almost on autopilot. When he got home, his wife was surprised. Why had he gone out again? She explained that he had come in ten minutes before. Unusually for him he had skipped his usual greeting and kiss on the cheek and gone straight upstairs. She called their son to confirm her story. Worried that there might be an intruder in the house, they checked upstairs and found no one. In the second incident, a colleague was amazed to see him in the  parking lot in a dark pinstripe suit, not usual attire for that office, on a day when he had announced he would skip work to attend a memorial service - where he was wearing the dark pinstripe suit,

Leiter speculates that these projections were the effect of (1) thinking intensely about people and places at a distance while (2) lapsing into a light state of "road trance" while driving along open roads. The Australian editor of the Journal at the time added a couple of likely vardøger sightings from his own experience. [4]

The last time I encountered a vardøger, it was the double of a woman of Norwegian descent who arrived at an airport ten minutes before her physical self. The doppelganger was so real that someone in our welcoming party went running after her. On a previous occasion, reported here, I was startled to encounter a friend of Norwegian descent in my bedroom the night before he was due to arrive as a guest. I told his double firmly that he had come a day too soon. Something about those Norwegians?

My last question received a response after I posted this blog. A Norwegian friend recalled that when he was five or six he often heard the noise of a car door closing and someone approaching the house fifteen minutes or so before his father came home. His mother had similar impressions. They both found confirmation that such things were possible in the television appearances of an "elegant professor" who talked very reasonably about paranormal phenomena. Because of "this wise, humorous and charismatic old man, we could have such experiences and recognize what is was and at the same time have some kind of explanation." His name was Georg Hygen.
I find that Professor Hygen was both a respected botanist, a leading figure in the Norwegian Parapsychological Society, and the author of a book on the vardøger published in 1987. [5] His Norwegian pride is showing when he declares in his subtitle that the vardøger is "our national paranormal phenomenon" (vårt paranormale nasjonalsfenomen).

The vardøger is a specific form of the double, which takes many forms and has sevefral names in Old Norse literature. "Harbinger", "forerunner", and psychic predecessor" have been suggested as kennings of vardøger. "Advance guard" or "spirit guard" might be closer to the Old Norse roots. The derivation is from Old Norse varðhygi which combines two names for aspects of our composite nature: (1) a protector, a "guard" or watchman" (vǫrð) and (2) a mobile, separable aspect of "mind" or spirit (hugr) as in the name of one of the ravens that scout for Odin.

2. F.S. Edsall, The World of Psychic Phenomena. New York: David McKay, 1982, p.13.
3. F.W.H. Myers, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death (London: Longmans, Green, 1903) vol.1, xx.
4. David  Leiter, L.,“The Vardøgr, Perhaps Another Indicator of the Non-Locality of Consciousness” Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 16, No. 4 (2002) 621–634.
5. Georg 
Hygen. Vardøger: Vårt paranormale nasjonalsfenomen. Oslo: Cappelen, 1987.

Drawing: "Vardøgr at the Airport" by Robert Moss

What Leaves the Body in Dreams

For the Mekeo of Papua New Guinea, as for many indigenous peoples, dreaming is what happens when part of you leaves the body and travels somewhere else. The Mekeo call that traveling self the lalauga, a term often translated as "soul" or "spirit". Australian anthropologist Michele Stephen suggests we call it simply the "dream-self" and recognize that in their description of its comings and goings the "primitive" Mekeo may have developed a clearer view and more exact vocabulary than many educated Westerners.       
     "Dreaming (nipi) is caused by the activity of the dream-self (lalauga) when separated from the physical body (imauga) and is later recalled in waking thought. One speaks of ‘I’, the waking conscious self, as performing or undertaking the dreaming – lau la nipi. That is to say, dreaming is a state experienced by ‘I’, but it is a state caused by the action of my dream-self in leaving my body. One part of the self is able somehow to observe the actions and desires of another part of the self.
   "I would suggest that Mekeo culture provides a means of discriminating more finely than we do in ordinary speech between different orders of experience....Mekeo discriminate not only between two different states of awareness, but between two different aspects of self involved."


Source: Michele Stephen, A’aiasa’s Gifts: A Study of Magic and the Self. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).

Sunday, July 7, 2024

My reading corner


My book family is an extended one, and ever-growing! I am always ready to adopt superior novelists; Jorge Amado (The War of the Saints) and Ben Okri (The Famished Road), Yangsze Choo (The Ghost Bride) and Ruth Ozeki (A Tale for the Time Being) are most welcome. There’s always room at my table for magical realists and masters of spy fiction and policiers; when I find we get on well together, I devour everything they have written at high speed, as I’ve done recently with Mick Herron and Matt Haig.
     This applies to writers in all genres. I have recently been on a Roberto Calasso binge, savoring everything from Ka and The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony and La folie Baudelaire to Tieoplo Pink, Ardor and the (unfortunately disappointing) The Tablet of Destiny. Calasso's The Celestial Hunter is my favorite. Who can resist a book steeped in Ovid's metapmorphoses that opens with this?

In the time of the Great Raven even the invisible was visible. And it continually transformed itself. Animals, at that time, were not necessarily animals. They might happen to be animals, but sometimes they were humans, gods, lords of a species, demons, ancestors. And humans weren’t necessarily humans but could also be the transient form of something else. There were no tricks for recognizing those that appeared. They had to be already known, as one knows a friend or an adversary. Everything, from spiders to the dead, occurred within a single flow of forms. It was the realm of metamorphosis.

     Some members of my book family hold court for a time, then retire into a quiet space. In the late 1980s, when my dreams led me into the world of the Iroquois in an earlier time, my intimate clan, over many months, included the 73 volumes of the Jesuit Relations, an extraordinary collection of the reports of blackrobe missionaries in New France and New York in the seventeenth century. Since a house move they are in storage but I know they are plotting to get back in my line of sight.
     I am a lazy linguist, but I like it when members of our book family speak their own languages because (as the Emperor Charles V said) to know another language is to live a second life. I am currently reading the Marquis d'Hervey de Saint-Denys' book on his pioneering experiments in lucid dreaming in his original language; I read 
Les rêves et les moyens de les diriger (1867) previously in a clumsy and incomplete translation.
      My current reading includes a quite wonderful book by Lynn Struve on the history of dreaming and dream sharing at the end of the Ming dynasty in China, an age of anxiety that was prime time for dream writers. If I were asked - as customs officers used to ask - if this is for business or pleasure, I would say "both, but for pleasure first."     
      Struve writes in The Dreaming Mind and the End of the Ming World:
"Does it matter what people of the remote past thought about their dreams? It certainly should matter to those who study intellectual-cultural history, primarily because dream-writing in general brings us closer than any other kind of writing to the subjective consciousness of the highly literate, who collectively set the major trends of their respective civilizations....Dream-writings can indirectly contribute to a history of consciousness, not in the sense of what people were conscious of over time (such as class identity) but in the sense of what people thought consciousness was and how they experienced it." 
     Elders in my book family, often consulted, include William James, C.G.Jung, Emerson, Robert Graves, C.S. Lewis, Shakespeare, Swedenborg, Thomas Mann, Henry Corbin. Marija Gimbutas, the great Lithuanian scholar of the Goddess, has a place of honor in our book family, and I often call on Jane Roberts and her multidimensional mentor Seth. Every three or four years I ask Joan Grant to tell me again (in
Winged Pharaoh) about how Egypt dreamed, and I sit down again with Viktor Frankl, in a quiet corner, so he can remind me (through Man’s Search for Meaning) of how the imagination can get us through the most hellish conditions. I’ll smoke a cigar with Mark Twain, who reminds me that we must not approach anything serious without bringing a sense of humor, or have nightcap with Graham Greene, who is always good for tips on the writer’s trade and how to turn memories and dreams into plot and character. 
    When the poets speak, we need to isten, especially when the poet is W.B. Yeats, who once declaimed to me, “What better guide/to the Other Side/ than a poet?” I open Rumi or Homer - or whatever book is closest to my hand -for daily bibliomancy. I walk with Baudelaire whispering in my ear that the world is a forest of living symbols that are looking at us. I go back again and again to the Odyssey and to Dante’s Divine Comedy. 

Per tornar altra volta
La dov’ io son

So I may return again
To where I am